The 5 Reasons Your Employees Don’t Do What You Ask (and what to do about it)

  • by kaibizzen
  • Jun 17, 2020
  • Blog

Does this sound familiar?  

Over the last week, this issue has come up repeatedly with our clients. 

And whilst the symptoms are slightly different in each situation, at the crux of the matter is essentially the same problem… 

They’re unable to get some of their team members to do what they need them to do.  

As a result our clients are expressing frustration, questioning whether or not they should keep the ‘recalcitrant’ individuals, and even saying things like “I’ll sack them all and go back to doing it myself – that was much easier”.  (Spoiler alert: you’ll be forever trapped in the business if you sack all your people and do it yourself!)  

What about you?   

Do you find that your employees sometimes (or perhaps often) don’t do what you’ve asked them to do? 

Does it seem like no matter how many times you’ve asked, things still aren’t being done? 

Are you also feeling frustrated and not sure what else you can possibly do to fix the situation? 

Well, fear not! For I am the bearer of good news!  

In this blog, I’ll use real-world examples and suggest solutions so you can take the necessary steps to create a business which works for you, rather than the other way around! 


Business owner, Tom, is frustrated that his new architect, Fred, who is not filling out his timesheets.   

Tom has shown Fred twice how to complete his timesheet online and asked him to submit it for processing by 5pm each Wednesday. But after two weeks it’s still not getting done correctly or on time. The bookkeeper has had to call Fred each week to request it. Tom is starting to wonder whether Fred is the right person for the job. 

There are five possibilities for Tom to consider before taking further action: 

Possibility 1: Fred doesn’t truly understand why filling in timesheets every week is important 

Firstly, Tom should consider whether Fred understands why filling in his timesheet every week is important.   

Fred may feel he is a very productive worker and gets his work done.   

He may question why he should take extra time to go online and record the time taken to do each job. Fred would prefer to just get on with the next job. 

Tom has told Fred what he expects, but he may not have explained why he expects it.  Tom, as a business owner, understands that tracking his employee’s billable hours is important.  He needs the information to make sure he invoices his clients correctly.  He can also make decisions about workloads and when a new employee may need to be recruited. 

Fred though is an employee, and therefore may not think the same way as Tom.   

Even though Tom is clear on why he needs it, if he has not communicated that to Fred, Fred will continue to do what he thinks he should be doing (getting the work done) and keep giving Tom the results he is getting. 

Solution 1: Tom needs to address why the task is important to the business. 

Tom needs to discuss with Fred the reasons why he needs him to fill in his timesheet online.   

He then needs to check Fred understands this.   

THIS DOES NOT MEAN Tom should ask Fred, “Do you understand?”.   

Many people respond “yes” to this question for a couple of reasons. Indeed, they may understand from their own perspective.  The challenge is that their perspective may not be the same as yours.  Alternatively, Fred may not have wanted to look silly by admitting he didn’t understand. 

In my experience most businesses have position descriptions that set out the tasks that each employee needs to do in their role.  Very few though set out the outcomes that they need to see achieved from doing those tasks. In this scenario, the TASK is – complete timesheet weekly and the OUTCOME is billable hours are accurately invoiced for each week.  

It is imperative that Fred not only knows what Tom expects of him but why he expects it as well. 

Possibility 2: Fred doesn’t know how to fill in his timesheet 

Tom could consider whether Fred knows how to fill out his time sheets correctly. It’s possible that he’s forgotten or misunderstood when they are due.  

Hang on a minute I hear you say, Tom has shown him twice already.   

Yes, Tom has told him and shown him, but again, did Tom check to see that Fred clearly and fully understood? Did Tom show him in a way that matched Fred’s communication preferences or his own? (Read this blog for more on communication styles.

Remember, true communication is the response you get.  If you’re not getting what you want from your employees, first check how you could have communicated what you want and need better.  Receive feedback from them to ensure they have the same understanding of what is expected as you do.   

Solution 2: Tom checks Fred’s understanding of the task 

Tom could ask Fred something along the lines of: “Tom, I hear from the bookkeeper that your time sheets haven’t been completed correctly the last two weeks, and haven’t been submitted on time. How are you finding the time-sheeting process? Is there anything that you’d like me to go over with you? I’m happy to give you as much training as required to help you feel confident with the system.” 

In this instance Fred admitted that he was having trouble, and Tom trained Fred once again. When finished, Tom asked Fred to fill out an example time sheet, and repeat to him what time it needed to be submitted. Tom ended the training session by once again asking Fred if he had any questions, and Fred assured him he didn’t. 

Possibility 3:  Fred just doesn’t want to fill in his timesheet. 

Solution 3:  Tom approaches Fred with curiosity, not judgement before explaining consequences of inaction. 

Tom sets up a meeting with Fred, at which he says: “Fred, you’ve been working here 3 weeks now. Three times we have sat down and done training on how to submit time sheets accurately. We also discussed the importance of submitting them by the company deadline, and you know how not submitting them correctly and on time affects the workflow of others. Despite this, for the third week in a row you have not done what you’ve been asked. Can you please tell me about that?” 

This open-ended question allows Fred to explain anything that might be going on for him. He may make excuses, or he may apologise. Whatever the response, it’s an opportunity for Tom to ask Fred what he’ll do to rectify the situation and explain the consequences if his behaviour doesn’t change. He could say: “Fred, you’ve told me you understand how to do this task, and that you understand how important it is. If it’s not done correctly next week, I will have no option but to give you a written warning.” 

And of course, it’s essential Tom follows through and issues a written warning if Fred’s behaviour doesn’t change. 

If there’s something your employees are not doing despite your repeated requests, I suggest you follow the processes above (solutions 1 to 3). Depending on the seriousness of the behaviour, you may enforce consequences sooner. 

Possibility 4:  Tom is reluctant to hold Fred accountable to fill in his time sheet every week 

This week one of our clients [Mary*] discussed with me one of her managers was more concerned about being friends with their team than they were about ensuring the team did the things she needed them to do.   

I asked Mary* what she was doing about it.   

Mary*’s response was she didn’t want to put too much pressure on her because she didn’t want to lose her.   

Losing her would mean she’d have to recruit someone else, and “there’s no one out there” so in the meantime she’d have to step back into that role. 

I asked Mary* this question, “So tell me Mary*, how is your ‘not wanting to put pressure on your manager’ any different to what you’re complaining about? How is your ‘not wanting to pressure on your manager’ being ‘more concerned about being friends’ with her? 

Mary* had a huge a-ha moment. 

Mary*’s manager was simply reflecting Mary*’s behaviour back to her. Mary* was more concerned about being liked by her manager than effectively managing her and holding her accountable, and as such, Mary*’s manager was more concerned about being liked by her team than effectively managing them and holding them accountable. 

Solution 4:  Lack of accountability in the business is often a reflection of a lack of personal accountability 

Similarly, Tom may be reluctant to hold Fred accountable.  After all it’s his bookkeeper’s problem to chase it up isn’t it? 

In my experience Tom’s reluctance to hold Fred accountable, and Mary*’s reluctance to hold her manager accountable, is a result of each of them not holding themselves accountable in many areas of their own life. 

Both Tom and Mary* must uncover in themselves first where they do not hold themselves accountable.  They then must realise why passing the buck – to the bookkeeper, or the manager – is not going to help them have a business that works for them. 

Possibility 5:  Fred hasn’t got the capability to do the job 

For this possibility I’m going to move away from the timesheet example. 

Business owners employ someone to do a job.  Week in week out the owner sends through to me their employee’s billable hours, and they are well under.  I ask them what’s going on?  Why aren’t they giving their employee more work? 

Inevitably, I get answers such as…  

  • they make too many mistakes,   
  • it’s easier and quicker if I do it myself,   
  • they can’t do it as well as I can. 

These responses can mean many things.  However, it’s important to point out that very often people are employed who do not have the capability to give the business owner what they want.   

Maybe when they were first employed they were good at what they did, but now the job has changed and they now aren’t capable. You know they aren’t going to help you get to where you want to go. 

Maybe they’ve been promoted to be manager (usually because they were best technician).  The most important skills and knowledge a manner requires is people leadership.   Have you given them development in this area, or have you thrown them in the deep end? 

Solution 5:  Tom needs to determine if Fred is capable of performing the role. 

The things that Tom needs to do is in this scenario are  

  1. determine the outcomes that are required from the job;  
  2. discuss them with the incumbent;  
  3. put in place a development plan;  
  4. have a performance management discussion with the incumbent;  
  5. put the employee in a more suitable position for their capability or if there’s no other positions move them out of the business. 

In most cases when an employee is not doing their job properly, they are just as frustrated as you are. 

Which of these possibilities sound familiar to you?   

At the heart of creating a business that works hard for you is a team of people who are willing and capable to drive the business forward – with or without you. Hands down, it is the hardest thing in business to achieve because it requires a skillset most of us were never taught – leadership and influence.  

The reason our PPP Methodᵗᵐ is so successful is because Rob and I don’t just give you the theory on how to do this stuff, we coach you in it. The benefit for you is that you learn by applying these skills in real-time, in your specific contexts.  

The result of this personalised coaching is your business improves as you improve, and all of our clients will tell you, they saw improvements almost immediately. If you’d like to develop a high-performing team who give you the freedom to work in your business as much or as little as you want, reach out. We’re here to support you in achieving the business and the life you deserve for you and your family. 

02 Oct

Panel Discussion

Tuesday, 6:30pm Quest Cannon Hill

What does it take to actually remove yourself from the day-to-day grind of business? Learn from our panel of Business Owners who've Been There, Done That.



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